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Political organizations known as “527 committees” have raised a record $391 million during the 2003-2004 election cycle, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

Just under half of the money—$175 million—went to 28 of the independent groups formed either to elect or to defeat President George W. Bush, the Center found. Groups involved in all federal elections—the presidential race plus House and Senate contests—have raised more than $233 million.

The amount raised by 527 groups during the months of July, August and September alone totaled nearly $161 million, which is about $12 million less than was raised during the entire year of 2002. The total was boosted by two dozen committees that filed their first disclosure forms last week.

The top 527 committees this cycle are America Coming Together and its partner, the Media Fund, which were formed to oppose the re-election of President Bush. ACT has collected $51 million, while the Media Fund has raised $46 million (a third related committee, Joint Victory Campaign 2004, splits its proceeds between the two). The largest Republican-leaning 527, Progress for America Voter Fund, has raised nearly $30.6 million. Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth, a 527 group which has aired ads attacking Kerry’s anti-Vietnam war activities, has raised more than $9 million.

Thirty six individuals or couples have given at least $1 million to 527 groups during this cycle, led by Peter B. Lewis, chairman of Progressive Insurance, who has contributed nearly $18.9 million through Sept. 30 to liberal committees. Financier George Soros has given $18.2 million during the same time frame to many of the same groups that Lewis gave to. Hollywood producer Stephen Bing ranks third with $13.5 million in contributions to 527 organizations.

Not all groups have filed reports covering contributions and expenditures through Sept. 30; those that file on a monthly basis have until Oct. 20 to do so. In addition, all groups must submit a pre-election report by Oct. 21 that covers activity during the first 15 days of the month.

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